I’ve been catching up on some reading, and finally got around to Caitlin Flanagan’s article, “Love, Actually: How girls reluctantly endure the hookup culture,” in the June edition of The Atlantic.
These days, girls navigate a sexual culture that encourages them to hook up with young men, but not to expect an actual relationship. Meanwhile, Flanagan identifies the deep disconnect between the promiscuous sexual culture girls must navigate, and the notably chaste entertainment they consume.
Girl-oriented pop culture is loaded with chick-lit (think of the bestselling Twilight series of novels with its cast of virgin vampires) and music (think of the PG-rated love songs of Taylor Swift) that offer a narrative of emotionally deep, committed, and largely chaste love. It’s a meme Flanagan calls “the Boyfriend story.”
Girls are spending their cash as fast as they can to get a dose of romance and emotionally meaningful love. It’s what they crave. But they have to get it in books or on their iPods because, Flanagan suggests, cheap casual sex is all they see around them in the real world.
What might we expect as the next thing for today’s girls? They just spent the better part of a decade being hectored — via the post-porn, Internet-driven world — toward a self-concept centering on the expectation that the very most they could or should expect from a boy is a hookup. We didn’t particularly stand in the way of that culture; we left the girls alone with it, sat idly by while they pulled it into their brains through their ubiquitous earbuds and their endless Facebook photo albums and text messages. We said, more or less, “Do your best.” And then we gave them iTunes gift cards and Wi-Fi connections in their bedrooms, and we warned them about dangerous online trends only after those trends had become so passé that we could learn about them on Dateline. And now the girls have had enough. We’ve sunk pretty low, culturally speaking, when we’ve left it to the 14- and 15-year-old girls of the nation to make one of the last, great stands for human dignity. But they’re making it, by God.
Flanagan describes one particularly disturbing episode at Milton Academy a few years ago — some sort of ménage à six in a locker room, involving five boys and one girl — as an extreme example of the sexual culture girls are trying to escape.
Astonishingly, toward the end of her essay, Flanagan takes a disparaging swipe at evangelical Christians, who she says have created their own “somewhat unseemly culture” by valuing virginity. Meanwhile, over the course of an entire article about our sexual culture, no other single group or movement comes under her particular scrutiny. She points only to a general lack of “direction” and “guidance” as a possible cause of girls’ troubles.
If Flanagan really wanted to find something “unseemly” in our culture, she could start by looking into the way our culture disparages virginity — as though virginity itself were something to be ashamed of.
What Flanagan doesn’t seem to realize is that the message of female empowerment, which is the stated goal of the feminist movement, is not compatible with the doctrine of sexual liberation the movement has pushed for so long.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood have spent decades selling women (and men) on the idea that they could have sex without consequences. Is it any wonder that we now live in a culture where sex is seen as cheap and — inconsequential?
Flanagan concludes by saying, “There might seem something wan, even pitiable, about all these young girls pining for boyfriends instead of hookups. But the wishes of girls, you have to remember, have always been among the most powerful motivators in the lives of young men. They still are.”
Flanagan makes some great points in her essay. But she seems unaware of the real cause of the sexual crisis young girls are facing.
I don’t have all the answers either. But I do know that the proliferation of pornography is one big factor. Another major problem is that many people today, like Flanagan, have decided that those who view sex as something sacred, something enormously consequential, something to be saved and protected, are somehow worthy of ridicule.